A coalition of over 50 civil liberties groups sent a letter to the Justice Department’s civil rights division calling for a “safeguards” to ensure that facial recognition software is being used accurately and fairly. 

Police departments and other government coalitions have been using facial recognition software more often in recent years. However, there is currently no way to regulate government use of these technologies, putting the safety of millions of Americans on the line.

Claire Garvie, who helped co-author a report with several other professionals at Georgetown University entitled “The Perpetual Line Up,” stated:

“Face recognition is a powerful technology that requires strict oversight. But those controls by and large don’t exist today. With only a few exceptions, there are no laws governing police use of the technology, no standards ensuring its accuracy, and no systems checking for bias. It’s a wild west.”

Civil liberties groups are concerned that since 2002, thousands of Americans who have never been arrested have had their picture in a database, thanks to their driver’s licenses being submitted. Groups are concerned that this creates a “digital line-up” of suspects who have never even been in trouble with the law before.

Also a concern is the amount of times software has generated a false match. Due to its nature, women, African-Americans and young people are often falsely matched within the database, which can trigger false or illegal arrests or other issues.

Currently, one in two Americans have their face stored in a database, which may have been done without their knowledge.

One big issue with the facial recognition software is that there is very little to govern it. There is almost no information in regards to who can access this software or how the information is being collected. There is also no comprehensive data to show exactly how the information is being used, if it is being used at all.

At least four agencies the civil liberties board contacted admitted who use the technology that they do not have any policy when it comes to the use of the software.

Georgetown proposes that ID photos be exempt from the databases and that only mugshots be entered in in order to protect the civil liberties of the American people.

Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Georgetown Center and a co-author of the report stated:

“I genuinely hope that more and more of the American public has a chance to see what’s at stake here. It doesn’t just track our phones or computers. It tracks our flesh and our bones. This is a tracking technology unlike anything our society has ever seen. You don’t even need to touch anything.”


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